Tuesday, April 16

‘The phone hasn’t stopped’: Dutch doctor’s vaccine helpline is overwhelmed

When COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Dutch physician Robin Peeters set out to combat growing misinformation.

He did it in two ways.

The first was donning his white medical coat and wandering the markets of Rotterdam to answer any questions people might have about the vaccine.

And usually, after a short talk to calm their concerns, most people agree to get vaccinated on the spot.

But that didn’t go far enough, so Peeters, who works at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, set up a hotline exclusively for vaccine-related questions.

“It is clear that there was a need on the part of society because from minute one the phone has not stopped ringing,” Peeters told Euronews.

The ‘Twijfeltelefoon’ (vaccine hotline) service was first launched in Rotterdam on 23 November and has since spread to other university centers in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht, among other cities.

Since then, they have received an average of 1,000 calls a day and the volunteers, most of whom are medical students, are overwhelmed.

To answer the callers’ questions, they have a database with medical information, where they record all the questions they receive and write down the answers to the most frequent ones.

Also, for more specific information, they can consult the network of medical experts at their universities, from gynecologists to allergists.

“Our goal is not to convince people to get vaccinated, but simply to inform them. The decision to vaccinate or not is up to the individual. We are not there to pressure them, we just want to inform them about the latest medical knowledge and vaccines,” said Peeters . “We just want to fight the misinformation that circulates on the Internet,” he added.

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‘Anti-vaccine people don’t call’

Peeters explained that, for the most part, the calls are from people who are concerned about getting vaccinated, have a lot of questions, and need to speak with a professional to make the decision.

“Most people have genuine questions that need to be taken seriously,” he said. “Almost everyone who calls us has serious questions that need to be answered.”

These are usually questions about how the vaccine will affect your migraine, if it is safe to get vaccinated when you are already taking medications for diabetes and kidney failure, how it will affect your pregnancy, allergies, side effects. They usually discuss their own personal medical condition and situation.

The most common questions, Peeters noted, are about pregnancy and fertility, and about possible allergic reactions.

“They just want to know if it is safe to get the vaccine in their situation and they need a doctor to give them this information,” he said.

“Contrary to popular belief, people who are against vaccines do not call this hotline. We have found that far more people have medical problems than are reluctant to receive the vaccine,” Peeters told Euronews.

And if they get a vaccination call on the other end of the line, they try to hang up as soon as possible; students are trained only to deal with medical problems.


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